Books about polio seem to be popping up more and more lately and Kathryn Lasky has just published one of her own. And really, who doesn't like Kathyn Lasky? Kids like her, parents like her, librarians like her, and Chasing Orion is just another addition to a steam of well-written, well-researched books.
Our main character is 11-year-old Georgia Mason; a precocious girl that just moved to a new neighborhood with her family. It's an incredibly hot summer and Georgie misses her friends terribly. Polio outbreaks are in full swing and her mother won't allow her to go to the local swimming pool to make new friends, in fear of Georgia catching polio herself.
Next door, polio has become very real for Phyllis, a teenage girl in an iron lung who befriends Georgia and her older brother Emmett. While Emmett is busy falling in love with the beautiful and charming Phyllis, Georgia is determined to find a way to cure the girl of her terrible disease, throwing herself into research and truly wanting to have Phyllis as her friend forever. And when the real reason Phyllis has been so friendly with Emmett and Georgia comes to light, an entirely new dimension of plot is revealed.
Lasky is an amazingly talented writer, having the ability to sink her teeth into a story and get in all the nooks and crannies before letting the reader turn the last page. I loved Georgia and her honest heart and innocent nature...though I suppose I did find her a bit more mature than most 11-year-olds. She was insightful, pensive, and thoughtfully written. You want to read more after the first page and you'll find yourself questioning Phyllis' motives soon after we meet her in the story.
On a historical level, I definitely learned some things about the time during the polio epidemic. Not only the limitations it placed on healthy people, but just what it might be like to have to live in an iron lung and the fear that people lived with on a day to day basis. Midway through the book I found myself on the internet looking up facts about polio and just what it did to a person's body. So devastating, but incredibly interesting to learn about how advanced something like an iron lung was for that period.
A couple of very mature themes end up running through the book, but I'm not going to mention them b/c giving away plot points is not something I'm fond of. It's written in an appropriate way for a middle grade reader, but you may want to skim it first, so as to be prepared to answer some questions when your kiddos have put it down. Great historical elements, as well as some facts on astronomy.
Overall rating: 4 out of 5
Review copy received from publisher
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